Take a listen to this short audio clip of a computerized voice speaking a single word repeated twice:
Do you hear it saying “Laurel” or “Yanny”? Opinions are mixed: some people report hearing “Laurel” and others “Yanny”. Both Vox and the NY Times took stabs at possible explanations.
Of course, in the grand tradition of internet reportage, we turned to a scientist to make this article legitimately newsworthy.
Dr. Jody Kreiman, a principal investigator at the voice perception laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, helpfully guessed on Tuesday afternoon that “the acoustic patterns for the utterance are midway between those for the two words.”
“The energy concentrations for Ya are similar to those for La,” she said. “N is similar to r; I is close to l.”
At first I thought the whole thing was a joke, like a circa-2018 rickroll. When I listened to the clip on my iPhone speakers and iMac speakers, I clearly heard “Yanny”. But then I plugged my headphones into my iMac and clearly heard “Laurel”. Weird! Even weirder: after unplugging my headphones and playing the clip again through my iMac speakers, I now heard “Laurel”. WTF? But then if I played it once more through the speakers, it turns back to “Yanni”. I’ve done this about 10 times and it happens this way every time: “Yanni” on speakers, “Laurel” on headphones, “Laurel” on speakers, “Yanni” on speakers. It’s like my brain remembers the “Laurel” it heard in the headphones, but only long enough to hear it exactly once through the speakers. FASCINATING.
See also the McGurk effect.
Update: Here’s a thread from psycholinguist Suzy Styles that explains what’s going on with this illusion.
In short, this #earllusion contains acoustic info from both names. ‘Yanny’ is clearer in the higher frequencies because of the clear signal for “y” sounds in F2. ‘Laurel’ is clearer in the low frequencies for F1. Play with your stereo settings and watch your brain switch tracks!
Tags: audio Suzy Styles